Friday, January 22, 2010

Scotch, wine, gin, cider and moonshine and the White House

You know many of our Presidents drank. Some were real boozers. I figured I would write a very short bit on the ones who were moderate to heavy drinkers.

I will only list deceased former presidents. Also we had several Presidents who drank in their youth and gave it up. They will not be listed here.

Although the Presidents that drank on average have lived longer, although the odds are changing as time goes on and people are drinking less than they once did.

I will list the age of each of these Presidents. It is quite amazing how long some of them lived. What is most interesting is that the earlier Presidents seemed to live much longer and healthier lives than many who followed them. Be they drinkers or not!

George Washington. 67

Yes he did drink quite a bit. He was very fond of Madeira wines. He had a rule at his table, and that was you could drink as much as you liked as long as you remained a gentleman. He was also one of the largest producers of whiskey as well, at his farm in Mt Vernon.

John Adams. 90

He would drink a gill of hard cider every day in the morning. That equals out to about 5 ounces. He was fond of wines and drinks. He was always a drinker and his children would suffer from alcoholism. Odd thing about Adams, he drank quite a bit, smoked and chewed tobacco and still is one of the longest living of our Presidents. He died at nearly 91 years of age. The only Presidents to live longer were Reagan and Ford nearly two centuries later.

Thomas Jefferson. 83

Oh yeah.. He loved his wines and had a massive dept often do to wine bills. He drank quite a bit of it.

James Madison . 85

Yes he drank some . He would be quite quiet, till he had a few in him. Then he would become the story teller at the dinner table.

James Monroe. 73

Yes some, and still he was not very exciting.

John Quincy Adams. 80

He was quite a Drinker. Several of his brothers died of alcoholism. He was not, but was quite a heavy drinker. He was known to be cold and forbidding, but after a few glasses of wine under his belt he was a fun dinner companion. He had many fun times playing cards and having cocktails with Dolly Madison.

Martin Van Buren 79

Yes he drank. He drank more as the years progressed

Franklin Pierce. 65

One big drunk. I guess the odd times were when he was sober. He tried while President to keep his habit under control, but failed. He was a mess. There was a joke about him that stated he was the victor of many a hard fought bottle.
When he lost his bid for re-election he said, "I guess there is nothing else to do but go home and get drunk." That he did till he died.

James Buchanan. 77

Big drinker. He complained that the booze bottles were too small in the White House. He was right behind Pierce, but unlike Pierce, he could drink massive amounts of alcohol and show no signs of being drunk or affected. He would buy 10 gallons of Whiskey a week for entertaining. He was drinking heavy as the country started to fall apart in what would become the Civil War.
He left office in 1861, meeting Lincoln he said to him "Sir, if you are as happy to enter this house as I am to leave it, you are a very happy man!" He left and returned to his home and drank.

Andrew Johnson. 68

He was not too good at handling it. Specially when he was inaugurated as Vice President. He had been ill and was offered some whiskey to calm his system down and it went right to his head.
He gave a rambling, slurring speech in which even Lincoln (who was 6 foot 4 inches tall) tried to sink low into his chair not to be seen. It was a sad thing that while Johnson was not a drunk, that event convinced everyone that he was.

U.S. Grant. 63

He liked his booze. He also was not the best at handling it either. But he could every now and then get trashed.
He was no where near the drunk he has been made out to be. One of the problems with Grant was he got massive Migraine headaches and this would make him unsteady on his feet, and slur his speech at times. But the sad part of Grant was he had a very low tolerance to alcohol. He would get rather done in by just a few drinks.

Chester A. Arthur. 56

Yep, he liked his wines, drinks, cocktails in large amounts. He gained 40 pounds while at the White House.

Grover Cleveland. 70

He loved Beer! Lots of it! Soon he weighed over 260 pounds on his 5 foot 10 inch frame. He never lost his love for the beverage. As one old man said to him at a train stop..."I have never met a President before, and you are a whopper!"

William McKinley. 58 assassinated

He liked scotch in the quiet of the evening

William H. Taft. 72

Wines and scotch were his standard fair when he was not eating. He at one point weighed in at 350 pounds and got stuck in his own bathtub. That was a night he had scotch I am sure. Also got a larger bathtub!

Woodrow Wilson . 67

He liked scotch and some wines. Sometimes at parties he would dance for the crowd, only in the privacy of friends and family though. I guess this would happen after a few drinks.

Warren G. Harding. 58

He liked his booze and had it often right in the middle of prohibition! How can anyone play cards unless they have a good adult beverage in hand. Harding did not let the law bother his drinking! Nor did he bother with such trifle things as drinking while suffering with a severely and weakened enlarged heart.

Franklin D. Roosevelt. 63

He liked Martinis his way. He would always make them. Everyone to a man later said they were terrible!

Harry S Truman. 88

He liked his booze now and then specially in his Library where the boss would not see it. The boss by the way was his wife Bess. All of the booze was kept in the library where it was hidden behind his books. It would brought out at whatever time it was needed.

Eisenhower. 78

He did not drink much, but his wife Mamie (82) was quite a drinker. She was always staggering around and loosing her balance. The secret service in those days called it an "Inner Ear Infection" .....Yes the infection was 40 proof!

John F Kennedy. 46 assassinated

He would have a few drinks in the evening usually of scotch, bloody Mary's, wine. But he was also on many drugs at the time which already made him pretty high, so the alcohol just added to the effect.

Lyndon B. Johnson. 64

He liked his booze, just his heart didn't

Richard Nixon. 81

He drank scotch. During Watergate the usage went up tremendously!

Nixon was the last of the drinkers so far. But who knows in the future who will be next and what (he or she) may drink!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The general Slocum disaster June 15, 1904...One of the worst shipping disasters in history..It was the worst disaster in NYC's history till 9/11.

The General Slocum before the terrible fire

The fire as seen through the eyes of a contemporary artist

The wreckage of the ship

Bodies that were washed up on shore...the death toll was staggering

More bodies at the hospital

A funeral procession of victims..

I have borrowed some of the information of this from the author Edward T. O'Donnell He has written a book on the disaster. It is a great book,get it!

My family knew first hand of this disaster. My Great Great Grandfather was involved in the rescue efforts in 1904. He was very much involved in the German community and was very involved with this. This was truly, outside of the World Trade Center disaster, the worst disaster to happen in New York City. It was not till the beginnings of the 21st century that the last survivor died. The disaster was in par with the Titanic, but in fact more passengers died on the Slocum than on the Titanic. Many of the deaths on the Titanic were from the crew. On the Slocum there was not much of a crew and many of them were saved. There were no rich and powerful people on the Slocum, and the lives of those on board did not make the papers ring of stories of their greatness.

That was a bad part of the Victorian and Edwardian world. In their view the rich were rich and the poor were poor and God made it that way. You were deemed important because of your money rather than who you were. But the loss of life in that sailing was truly on a scale that was beyond shocking. Over one thousand people laid dead over a senseless tragedy. It was a date the shook much of New York to it's knees, and yet now all these years later we hardly know of its existence.

Here is the sad story

Ask any New Yorker to name the city's greatest disaster before September 11, 2001 and invariably they offer the same answer: the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911.
That tragic event garnered international headlines as 146 young immigrant women lost their lives in an unsafe garment factory. Yet even though it is certainly Gotham's most famous disaster, it runs a distant second to a much larger catastrophe which occurred only seven years earlier.
On June 15, 1904, more than 1,000 people died when their steamship, the General Slocum, burst into flames while moving up the East River. It was the second-most deadly fire (after the Peshtigo fire of 1871) and most deadly peacetime maritime disaster in American history.

The story of the General Slocum tragedy begins in the thriving German neighborhood known as Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany. Located on the Lower East Side in what is today called the East Village, Kleindeutschland had been home to New Yorks German immigrant population since they first began arriving in large numbers in the 1840s. With more than 80,000 Germans living there by the 1870s, the neighborhood lived up to its name. German fraternal societies, athletic clubs, theaters, bookshops, and restaurants and beer gardens abounded. So too did synagogues and churches. One of those churches, St. Mark’s Lutheran church on East 6th Street, held an annual outing to celebrate the end of the Sunday school year.

They usually chartered an excursion boat to take them to a nearby recreation spot for a day of swimming, games, and food. On June 15, 1904, more than 1,300 people boarded the General Slocum for a day at Locust Grove on Long Island Sound.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., the crew of the General Slocum cast off and the ship pulled away from the pier. It chugged northward up the East River, gradually increasing speed. Hundreds of children jammed the upper deck to take it all in. Like most mornings, the river was full of boats of every description – barges, lighters, tenders, and tugs. The adults talked and listened to a band play German favorites.

Then disaster struck. As the ship passed East 90th Street, smoke started billowing from a forward storage room. A spark, most likely from a carelessly tossed match, had ignited a barrel of straw. Several crewmen tried to put the fire out, but they had never conducted a fire drill or undergone any emergency training. To make matters worse, the ships rotten fire hoses burst when the water was turned on. By the time they notified Captain William Van Schaick of the emergency a fully ten minutes after discovering the fire -- the blaze raged out of control.

The captain looked to the piers along the East River, but feared he might touch off an explosion among the many oil tanks there. Instead, even as onlookers on the Manhattan shore shouted for him to dock the ship, he opted to proceed at top speed to North Brother Island a mile ahead. Several small boats followed the floating inferno as it roared upriver.
The increased speed fanned the flames. Panicked passengers ran about the deck, unsure where to take refuge. Mothers screamed for their children, husbands for their wives. The flames, accelerated by fresh coat of highly flammable paint, rapidly enveloped the ship and passengers began to jump overboard. Some clung to the rails as long as they could before jumping into the churning water. A few were rescued by nearby boats, but most did not know how to swim and simply drowned.

The inexperienced crew provided no help. Nor did the 3,000 lifejackets on board. Rotten and filled with disintegrated cork, they had long since lost their buoyancy. Those who put them on sank as soon as they hit the water. Wired in place, none of the lifeboats could be dislodged. Even if they had, they would never have made it safely into the water with the ship chugging along at top speed.
By the time the ship finally beached at North Brother Island, it was almost completely engulfed in fire.

Survivors poured over the railings into the water. Some huddled in the few places not yet reached by the flames, too terrified to jump. Nurses and patients at the island's contagious disease hospital rushed to offer assistance. Several of them grabbed ladders being used to renovate the facility and used them to bring the survivors off the ship. Others caught children tossed by distraught parents. Within minutes, all who could be saved, including the captain and several crew, were moved away from the burning hulk.

The General Slocum left a grisly wake. The boats that followed seeking to offer assistance plucked a few survivors from the water. But mostly they found only the lifeless bodies of the ship’s ill-fated passengers. The fact that most were young children only added to the horror.
Within minutes of the tragedy, reporters from the New York World and other major dailies were on the scene. The dispatches they sent back to their newsrooms sickened many a hardened editor. Rescue workers openly wept as the corpses piled up. By the time they were done counting the bodies and tabulating a list of the missing, the death toll stood at 1,021.

With more than 1,300 people on the outing, nearly everyone in the neighborhood knew someone on the ship. As word of the fire spread, it caused panic and confusion. No one seemed to know where to go. Thousands gathered at St. Marks Church awaiting word about survivors. Thousands more rushed uptown to the East 23rd Street pier designated as a temporary morgue.
By mid-afternoon, those not yet reunited with their family members began to lose hope. Many discovered they had lost a wife or child. Dozens learned they had lost their entire families.
At the morgue policemen and Coroner's Department workers labored to lay out the hundreds of corpses as they arrived. Others were dispatched to scour the city for coffins. Wagons arrived laden with tons of ice for the preservation of the bodies. Outside hundreds of policemen strained to control the swelling crowds of relatives and friends, not to mention curiosity seekers, reporters, and undertakers.

For the next week, thousands paraded past the gruesome lineup of victims resting in open coffins. The better preserved were identified quickly. Some of the burned and disfigured were identified by their clothing or jewelry. The sixty-one that could not be identified including many of the bodies recovered days after the event -- were buried in a common grave.
Funerals were held every hour for days on end in the churches of Kleindeutschland. These tragic scenes were punctuated by the suicides of several men and women who lost their entire families in the fire.
The story of the General Slocum made headlines across the nation and around the globe. World leaders and European royalty sent money and letters of condolence to Mayor George B. McClellan and the people of St. Marks. Funds poured in from private citizens and charitable groups from Rhode Island to California.
How could a tragedy of such magnitude occur within a few hundred yards of the shores of the nation's most modern city?

In the weeks and months that followed the fire, an outraged public searched for answers and culprits. City officials vowed to conduct a thorough investigation and within weeks, Captain Van Schaick, executives of the Knickerbocker Steamboat Co., and the Inspector who certified the General Slocum as safe only a month before the fire were indicted.
Captain Van Schaick came under the most intense scrutiny. Why had he failed to dock the ship immediately after discovering the fire? Why had he instead raced upriver and allowed the fire to claim more victims? Why was his crew so poorly trained? How was it that he survived when so many others perished?

At his trial Van Schaick offered plausible explanations for his actions, but the jury was not convinced. A convenient scapegoat, he was convicted of criminal negligence and manslaughter and sentenced to ten years hard labor in the Sing Sing prison. He served three years before receiving a pardon from President William H. Taft. Van Schaick was free, but broken by the horrible tragedy and subsequent legal crucifixion, he lived out his days in melancholy seclusion.

In contrast, the officials at the Knickerbocker Steamship Company escaped with only a nominal fine. This despite the fact that the trial revealed the company had illegally falsified records to cover up their lack of attention to passenger safety.
The General Slocum tragedy left a lasting impact on New York City. First, it caused the rapid dissolution of the German enclave of Kleindeutschland. Most survivors and their relatives were unwilling to remain in a neighborhood suffused by tragedy and simply moved. The steady exodus of Germans to upper Manhattan's Yorkville begun in the 1890s now became a torrent.

By the time of the 1910 census, only a handful of German families remained in Kleindeutschland. The Slocum tragedy not only consumed 1,021 lives, but took with it an entire community as well.
Second, the General Slocum disaster brought about a major upgrading of steamboat safety regulations and a sweeping reform of the United States Steamboat Inspection Service (USSIS). One week after the fire, President Theodore Roosevelt named a five-man commission to investigate the Slocum tragedy and recommend measures that would prevent an event like it from occurring again. The commission held hearings in New York and Washington, D. C. and took testimony from hundreds of witnesses and experts.
In October 1904 it issued a scathing report that placed most of the blame at the feet of the USSIS. Dozens were fired and a complete re-inspection of steamboats ordered. Not surprisingly, the new inspections turned up widespread safety problems, from useless lifejackets to rotten fire hoses. The result was a long list of recommended reforms, including requiring new steamboats be equipped with:

fireproof metal bulkheads to contain fires

steam pipes extended from the boiler into cargo areas (to act as a sprinkler)

improved lifejackets (one for each passenger and crew member)

fire hoses capable of handling 100 pounds of pressure per square inch

accessible life boats

All were subsequently enacted, leading to dramatic improvements in steamboat safety.
Remarkably, the Slocum tragedy rapidly faded from public memory, to the point that it was replaced as the city's GREAT fire just seven years later when the Triangle Shirtwaist factory burned.
There were similarities between the two fires, both involved immigrants and mostly female victims and both aroused public wrath. But the Triangle fires death toll was 85% lower than the Slocum just seven years earlier. How then did it become the fire of fires in New York's (and the nations) memory?

Two factors begin to explain this remarkable legacy. First, there was the context. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred at a time of intense labor struggle, especially in the garment trades.
Only a year before the shirtwaist makers had staged a huge strike for better wages, hours and conditions. Now 146 of them lay dead. There was no question about who was to blame.
This conclusion was reinforced when the public learned that the factory owners had locked the exits to keep the women at their machines. Second, the onset of World War I eradicated sympathy for anything German, including the innocent victims of the General Slocum fire. By the 1920s, as the Triangle fire became firmly entrenched in the American memory, all that remained of the General Slocum fire was a small, annual commemoration at the Lutheran cemetery in Middle Village, Queens.

What became of the ship, this ship of death? It was raised, repaired and used again for the greedy owners who cared not a damn of the safety of the young children who had ridden on this ship. It became a commercial carrier of products and thankfully sank in 1911 and was seen no more.

In closing we all remember the 9/11 attacks and the horrors of that day and I hope we always do. But while we honor the memories and horror of what is today, let's not forget the horrors of the past. For we learn from them.
As sad and as bad as they are, they are teachers and speak to us over the generations.

We learn far more from our failures and disasters than we do our successes and triumphs. History is our greatest teacher.

On March 25, 2011 it will be the 100th anniversary of the Triangle fire, you will hear all about it, but sadly in 2004 we heard hardly a peep about the 100th anniversary of the Slocum.
A hundred years from now the World Trade Center will be a distant memory of a long dead New York and one of the many disasters to sadly befall us. But I would find it sad to see it forgotten. I am sure many here now reading this will say, "they will never forget". But please remember and a see how fickle our memories are. The Slocum was the worst thing to happen in New York in the 20th century, It was as bad in many ways as the Trade Center attacks, yet why do we not recall it? As I said our memories are so fickle.

Let us not forget!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A big rally for the union and against the south in late April of 1861 . In Union Square in New York City

In late April of 1861 the commander of Fort Sumter, Major William Anderson appeared in Union Square in New York City. Fort Sumter which had been fired on and overtaken by the south in mid April of that year.
It was the catalyst that would lead to the civil war. On this late April day in 1861 in Union Square, the flag that flew over Ft. Sumter was placed over the statue of Washington in the park. That same flag would be raised over Ft. Sumter on April 14, 1865 when it was reclaimed by the north again.
But at this event in 1861, over a quarter of a million people were there in support of the Union. Even though New York City was very much a pro southern city. The crowds who came to this event were very much influenced by the attack on Ft. Sumter and like all events that rear up the feeling of patriotic fervor, it brought out the masses and many young men of the city enlisted . This early photograph tells it all.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The greatest biography of Abraham Lincoln... In its original concept, a three book edition.

William Henry Herndon (1818-1891) Herndon did some very enthusiastic research on his law partner. His work brought about by many interviews of those who loved Lincoln and those who did not. They were a bit too much for many historians and friends of old Abe. Many people had already brought him forward to sainthood. In fact many historians did their very best to discredit this book as often as possible. For it took away the saintly qualities they had put into their creation of Lincoln. But with its warts and all, it truly is the greatest biography of Lincoln ever done. For it shows him as a man, not a god.

The front cover of one of the 3 books that make the set in it's original style.

The 3 books together as they are seen today. This set was put out in 1889 and published by the Herndon Lincoln Publishing Company. This was another name used by the company Bedford Clark and Company. After publishing about 1500 books they went into financial troubles and the pressing of the book had to be held up and came out again in this form, which was identical to the previous. In which ever form these early copies of this set are hard to come by and quite rare.

Jesse William Weik (1857-1930) who worked with Herndon and basically edited, and rewrote much of what Herndon had. It was very much a mixed blessing for him to do so. For by doing so he misunderstood some of Herndon's ideas and interviews. But in most cases he had the right idea, just a few he was off the map. These would be corrected in later editions, not these early first ones.

The front title pages to two of the books.

Herndon was Lincolns law partner for near 17 years and knew him better than any man. For Herndon was not afraid to tell the truth on all subjects and only now are we really starting to listen to the man Lincoln called "Billy".

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The great sea battle between the Constitution and the Java . Read about the battle first hand from the New York newspaper "The War" from 1813.

The great sea battle between the Constitution and the Java on Dec 29, 1812. It was clear and decisive victory for a vessel soon to be called "Old Ironsides"

The New York City newspaper called THE WAR was published from 1812 on as the United States and England were involved in a totally senseless war.
In many ways it was just a continuation of the revolutionary war. However, it proved to be a 3 year war of stalemates.
The news traveled slow in those days. So news from Europe would take a month or so to get to the United States. Since the battle between the ships took place off the coast of Brazil, it took even longer for the news to reach England and the United States. As you will notice the news paper is from June 23, 1813.

It has information is from England concerning the battle. Therefore, the news needed to go from the battle. Which would mean that the news would not be known in the USA till the Constitution reached home. Then the news of the battle went to Europe and the comments you see here were gained from comments in England. That process took nearly 6 months! Amazing when you think of today's Internet and the fact that nothing can happen anymore without the world knowing about about it in minutes!

Perhaps the best example of how long news took to travel. The War of 1812 ended on Christmas Eve 1814. Known as the Treaty of Ghent. However, the news did not reach the United States till well into January 1815. Perhaps one of the greatest battles of the War of 1812 took place in New Orleans in early January 1815. There was a massive loss of life to the British in that battle, and little did they know that both parties were at peace! Yet since the news did not arrive till weeks after, mass carnage took place after peace was declared.

The newspaper you can read here is the original from 1813, and it gives the official account of the capture of the Java. This weekly newspaper was published every Tuesday in New York by S. Woodworth and Company on 60 Vesey Str. NYC. It mentions that it is near the Bear Market as you will see on the original. This was a early market that sold various goods and wares. What is very interesting as well is that the structure where the paper was published and the headquarters for this Newspaper, was where the World Trade Center once stood. So where "The War" was published in 1812-1815, became the site of a new one in 2001.
Perhaps the building where it was published was torn down in the 1960's as they were preparing to build the twin towers.

The pictures can be enlarged so you can read history from its very pages. Enjoy this most rare document from the War of 1812. The story is on 2 pages. As it is nearly 200 years old it is dark, but mostly readable. Many times we read what others think and say about history. But it is always interesting to read the history when it was labeled a current event.